Concern has risen a notch within the little-known branch of the German automobile giant Volkswagen, the one which manufactures diesel back-up engines for submarines and nuclear power plants in Saint-Nazaire. In the ranks of the unions, some no longer excluded, Tuesday, actions of force during the exits of ships at sea.
The new management in France of Man Energy Solutions has confirmed to its 600 employees its plan of more than 70 job cuts, in addition to the twenty identified by the CGT. And it has just communicated its “strategic” objective: to maintain more than 40 million euros in profit by 2023, “Without any projected order intake for the next few years, or turnover or staff by business line”, point out the union representatives.
For the historic brand of diesel engines Pielstick, at the heart of parallel negotiations between the State and Volkswagen, “The strategy is no longer to sell or manufacture them directly, but to provide only after-sales service and licensees”, they say. It is thus little wonder, believe the trade unionists, that “MAN-ES asks the French Navy to put its hand in its pocket if it wishes to develop a new generation of submarine engine”.
The situation put the Loire-Atlantique senator, Yannick Vaugrenard, member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Armed Forces, on alert. In letters sent at the end of March to Bercy and to the chairman of the Volkswagen management board, he is concerned about the lack of an R & D budget for improving the engines of the Pielstick brand, “essential for our nuclear submarines” . He wonders in passing about the absence of Man’s participation in the France Relance program on hybrid energies.
As for nuclear engines, company representatives also denounce obstacles to their development. “The group prohibits us from making offers in countries which have not signed the Vienna Convention and asks French customers to make contracts under Swiss law …”.
Finally, they accuse the decision of the German group to transfer a third of the machining activities either to low-cost countries (Velka Bites in Czechia, Aurangabad in India and Changzhou in China), or across the Rhine to load the tool from production of the parent company, and thus organize the loss of skills in France. “Cuts have been decided to satisfy a savings plan decided at group level under pressure from Volkswagen, without taking our situation into account. But we are beneficiaries. But without the prospect of new orders, this will lead to the closure of the site ”, warn union representatives.
The social unrest is all the greater as the government seems to have relaxed the pressure on the German shareholder. After giving Volkswagen formal notice at the end of January and giving it three days to give pledges on its ability to supply and maintain the engines of French submarines, Bercy and the General Directorate of Armament (DGA) granted Man ES a further delay until June, say several sources. “Discussions are continuing with Man and Volkswagen, in a more constructive state of mind than in January” , we say to the office of the Minister of the Armed Forces.
The plan for a split from Man Energy France to a French buyer, which some wanted, seems ruled out. “There is no plan or intention to sell the French activities of Man Energy Solutions”, replies the German headquarters in Man. Contacted, the French subsidiary has not yet reacted.
A change of supplier, a “deep break”
At Naval Group, for the time being, we say that we have no short- and medium-term concerns about the ability of Man ES to supply the desired diesel engines. Supplies are secured for the Barracuda-class submarine program, under construction, the first of which, the Suffren, will soon join the Navy. The ordered engines will be delivered. The doubt concerns long-term maintenance, since the last ANS in the series is due to be delivered in 2032 to sail at least until 2060.
In addition, studies have just started on the eventual replacement of nuclear missile launching submarines (SSBNs), which serve as nuclear deterrents for France. Naval Group needs to know now whether Man ES will come on board or whether it will have to look for another supplier, for example, from the other German manufacturer MTU. “For more than 30 years, Man ES engines, built in France, have been used on all French Navy submarines. A change of supplier would therefore be a major break ”, we confirm at Naval Group.
While marine diesel engine technology in itself is not exceptional, knowing how to adapt it to the needs of nuclear submarines is a special exercise. “A nuclear submarine engine, compact, powerful, silent is not a product that can be bought off the shelf”, one explains to the staff of the Navy.
Norway blocks the sale of a Rolls Royce subsidiary to a Russian group
Norway has announced that it will block Rolls-Royce’s plan to sell a Norwegian producer of boat engines, Bergen Engines, to the Russian group TMH. In the bosom of the British car manufacturer since 1999, Bergen Engines supplies and maintains engines for buildings of several NATO navies. The Norwegian government explains that “the technology available to Bergen Engines and the engines it manufactures would have great strategic military significance for Russia. This would have strengthened Russia’s military capabilities in a way that would clearly be contrary to the interests of Norwegian and Allied security policy ”.